Wisdom of the OakOur visits come and go all too quickly but this was our shortest visit to date; we had to make the most of the bank holiday weekend. With my PDC closely looming and our daughter’s graduation on the horizon, our time would be taken up elsewhere for a while.  We had to make the most of this short, but as always, meaningful trip.

We camped, only the second time, since the weather last year left the ground so sodden and muddy that camping wasn’t an option. This was made even more pleasurable though by having cut the grass with our manual push mower – a recent acquisition from our local Freegle group.

Now we are by no means short of things to do, but we found that using the mower became the most amusing activity. There was even a healthy sense of envy as we watched each other use it with a look that said, “right my turn now”.

Amazing…turning a necessary task into a game. The mower was the icing on the cake for cutting the grass, having spent the last 12 months keeping the rush down, turning an area  of thick resilient rush into the perfect camping area.  We were obviously deprived as children, having discovered this new sense of excitement over a manual push mower. We plan to offer this unique experience to our visitors. My intention is to amuse you here.

Crazy….excitement over a piece of machinery……?  When something means so much to you though as our dreams for wishtree do, sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that can make you the happiest. Creating this area has been one of our major projects and the mower has helped us to achieve this. It meant the first stage of our plans for having visitors and volunteers was becoming a reality.

We knew we couldn’t get much done in the few days we were there, so we made a point of doing what we could whilst making the most of the beautiful weather, probably on ratio having more sun in 3 days than we’ve had in nearly 2 years.

We continued with the much needed maintenance as well as laying the last pieces of cardboard needed for our experimentation and first planting area. This was another long awaited task which we had been slowing working towards completing over the last year. Slowly but surely our hard work is paying off in what seems like forever but…. in the scheme of things, is actually a short space of time.

The cardboard had all but disappeared from the first 1m x 2 m area sheet-mulched in April 2012. This meant the worms had moved in, which in turn meant the fertility had increased. We’re not experts on soil fertility but we hope to harness the nutrients in the heavy clay soil by building the humus layer up and making them more accessible to a variety of plant species.

We always work hard when we are in the wood, not really stopping anywhere near often enough to enjoy what’s around us, but observation is as important a principle as any other in Permaculture; some would say the most important. By relaxing, and taking the time out to just “be”, we can be lazy and productive at the same time.

Sitting and observing the areas around us, the sunshine seemed to give the earth a new flush of life. Butterflies dived and danced around the soft swathes of grass and delicate white flowers that now grow where once the rush was dominant. A pair of collared doves played chase as they pranced and swooped from tree to tree. I watched with such joy as I could see the magic of wishtree unfold.

Every act we do allows the magic to escape in each area we manage, showing us something new each time, inspiring us more. Sometimes a mental block stops us from seeing the design as it can be. We leave it for a few days, weeks or months and often when we return we can see it in a new light, opening up its potential.

I recently listened to a podcast by Scott Mann who was interviewing Stephen Harrod Buhner.  Stephen spoke of how the ambience we feel when we walk into a room, be it good or bad, is the existence of an energy in which the earth is trying to tell us something about that particular moment.  He talks about us being touched by it:

 “some of our own energy is given to that moment as that moment gives to us and teaches us things to learn from that experience. Where the rekindling the response of the heart to what’s presented to the senses means, allowing the world to touch you and understand it when it does….a deeper holistic way of looking at the world.”

Stephen continues by saying these moments the Greeks called aesthesis, (pertaining to the senses), an exchange of essence between two souls. My moment with the butterflies was such a moment as this, an exchange between Gaia and myself.

This aesthesis is felt so many different ways as we take our morning and evening walks around the wood. On our leaving walk we wondered if we were being mocked in a sense of abandonment as we discovered another apple tree and a small patch of bugle, knowing what we would miss over the coming months, our pending commitments preventing us from visiting for a while. To us though, it was yet another indication of the bounty and fertility of the wood.  It didn’t matter. This was a moment we had captured and could both hold on to till our long-awaited return.

Tinkers Bubble – a visit

The following was originally posted on the Transition Hertford website blog after our visit to Tinkers Bubble in Somerset in November 2010.

Last Friday, Wenderlynn and I went down to Somerset for a much-needed weekend getaway. When we realised that our B&B was only 3 miles away from the eco-village Tinker’s Bubble, we phoned ahead and arranged to pay them a visit.
Leaving the B&B in the drizzle, our little Polo protested as we rattled along ever-narrowing roads that grew bumpier and bumpier (past Bagnell’s B&B – we should have stayed there!) until we saw the delightful hand-painted sign that told us we were there, and parked up among fallen apples.

We could see a couple of figures moving around in some sheds, and with some trepidation, we walked towards them. We were both aware that the inhabitants here (let’s call them the Tinkers) were very much living literally in their own bubble, and although we were fascinated to find out how they lived, and see what this community has achieved, at the same time, we didn’t want to intrude on their lives. We also felt that we wanted to avoid coming across as tourists. These are people who have taken low-impact living almost to its ultimate conclusion, by building their own self-contained, sustainable and largely off-grid community.

Essentially though, they hold the same values that we do, the difference being that they have chosen to go further down the road than we have. Wenderlynn and I both wanted to convey this spirit of kinship during our visit, which is why we unanimously and unspokenly (is that a word?) chose to leave the camera in the car. In any case, we were not there to take photographs – we were there to learn, to discover what it is like at the sharp end of sustainable living. We joined Transition Hertford partly because we wanted to take the next step up from using low energy lightbulbs and not running the tap when you brush your teeth. By extension, we had come to Tinker’s Bubble to see what life is like when you carry on taking the steps we had started to take, beyond having an allotment, beyond walking to work or pledging not to fly, because for all this, we still go home, and switch on the heating and the TV. What happens when you fully commit to sustainable living? We were about to find out.

We somewhat nervously approached the first person, a lady sorting through apples. Once we had introduced ourselves and explained why we were there, she told us her name was Karina, and started showing us around the area in which she was working. This was a big barn with bottles and sacks of apples, as well as various vegetables including some superb-looking cabbages. Behind this barn was another, filled with timber, outside which a man was cutting wood. Karina explained that the sawmill is run off a beautiful old steam-powered engine. This amazing old machine, housed in a strawbale-lined barn to reduce noise, really was a sight to behold, and allows Tinker’s Bubble to generate an income by processing timber from the Douglas Fir woodland in which they live.

Karina invited us to carry on walking around the site, and we chose to continue along the pathway to our left. We were greeted by a 40 year old orchard, the trees bending and twisting as if to reach the countless apples that lay at their feet. These apples provide the Tinkers with another income through the cider and juice they press themselves (although unfortunately this has to be done off-site for the usual eternally vague “health and safety” reasons). To our right was a steep, wooded slope. Somewhere up there, hidden in amongst the trees, was the settlement of houses where the Tinkers lived. Looking to our left, nestled among the apple trees, was a cob-walled building, made with timber and old pallets with a fantastic sky-lighted roof. This housed an apple press, and scattered on the ground around the outside were some glass demijohns. To the side of this building was a small shelter, protecting sacks of apples. This whole scene felt so much like a scene from the past, yet viewed in the context of our dwindling resources and financial collapse, we couldn’t help feeling that this is actually a vision of the future.

We continued to our right now, climbing the hill up through the trees. We passed the toilets, housed in strawbale shelters, and walked on a little way until we started seeing the houses. There was beauty and comfort in the ramshackled strawbale and cob wall shelters that the Tinkers call home, it was nice to see that nothing was perfect about them. No 4x4s, no fancy gardens, nothing to tell anyone that “I have a more important status than you in this community” – they were put together simply using what nature had provided, true to their principles of not using fossil fuels.

We were very aware here that we were wandering among people’s homes, and did not want to intrude, so we cautiously skirted around the houses, keeping as much distance as we could from the buildings, until we saw someone who spoke to us for a few minutes about how he and his partner had arrived at Tinker’s Bubble, and about their life there. We learned that everyone contributes 1-2 days of communal work a week (gardening, forestry work etc) and another, domestic work day, when they clean communal areas, cook for everyone, wash up and so forth.

After a brief chat, we moved on, past pots, pans, plates and cups that were stacked and hung as ramshackled as the homes in which they were used. This could have been a scene from our summer camping trips. We wondered why we go camping to do this very thing, to get away from the humdrum, the grind of work, the mortgage noose around our necks, and society’s restrictions on our lives, wanting to be outside and free, why we do this for a few days, only to then return to our bricks and mortar? We close the front door and our connection to the earth is largely lost, but at Tinker’s Bubble, people are living it daily, close to nature with no frills, no modern home comforts, but with a real sense of belonging and purpose.

A few more yards and we arrived at the fantastic communal roundhouse. Outside, eating his lunch was Pete. Wenderlynn had spoken to Pete on the phone, but it turned out this was in fact “Pete 2”, who was very friendly and chatted to us for some time about Tinker’s Bubble. He explained that around 90% of their food is self-produced, with nuts, grains etc bought in bulk to supplement this. He showed us the roundhouse, a splendid thatched building built with their own timber, stone paved inside, which even has an electric light which runs off their own self-generated electricity of course. This building has a loft and houses the kitchen, although we only saw the communal living room area, which looked very cosy and inviting on such a wet day. Pete talked to us about how he came to be here, and said that some people had been living there for 10 years or more.

We thanked Pete, and continued through the woods, down to the gardens: even in mid-November, here was an abundance of produce in a large, flourishing organic vegetable garden, with chickens to one side and a battery of solar panels and a wind turbine to the other. One or two Tinkers were working on the land here, and, as with the apple press before, this seemed like a vision of the past and the future, simultaneously.

The locals nearby seem to have accepted Tinker’s Bubble, although a condition of their getting planning permission for their homes was that the buildings must be hidden among the trees, so that they are not visible. Pete 2 and Pete 1 both gave their views on this, Pete 2 saying that although it made it a bit gloomy at times, and strong winds made him nervous sometimes, living amongst the trees provided valuable shelter in the winter. Pete 1 pointed out that he spent most of his time down in the gardens, but enjoyed the shade the trees give him in hot weather. As we walked away from the gardens, back down the path towards the car, we looked back at the little world we were walking away from, and despite the persistent rain, we were sad to be leaving. A couple of Tinkers told us that they had been WWOOFers before moving into Tinker’s Bubble, and the whole experience has inspired Wenderlynn and me to plan a spell of WWOOFing ourselves in the near future, perhaps at Tinker’s Bubble if possible.

The one thing that came across to us more than anything else during our brief time at Tinker’s Bubble, was how happy people seemed to be, living in these 40 acres of woodland, pastures, and apple orchards, living in benders and cob houses, cooking on a wood stove fire, the low living costs mean that the Tinkers generally only have to do around one day’s paid work a day, often on their stall at a local farmer’s market, selling fruit, vegetables or crafts. These are not people living in depravation. This life is not for everyone, and of course there is certainly a degree of sacrifice in giving up the comforts of a conventional life in our society, but to talk of sacrifice ignores the positives of such a move – community togetherness, living towards a shared vision, avoiding the 9-5, enjoying the feeling that your time is your own, and the knowledge that you are not damaging the earth and exploiting other people every day.

Whether Wenderlynn and I could make such a move ourselves, I really do not know. Sacrificing certain things for a more simple life would not be a problem – TVs and dishwashers are nice luxuries, but we have already begun to scale down our usage of them in our home, and would rarely miss them I think. They are part of the whole process: relaxation aids to help you unwind after wasting another day of your life in a meaningless job, and I’d guess that the need for such things diminishes, the further you move away from a lifestyle that leaves you drained and spiritually unsatisfied.

There are so many questions we wanted to answer – what do you have for breakfast? What’s it like going to the toilet in the depths of winter? Are there times when you just fancy watching a film, or having a burger? Do family and friends visit? What do they think? – but we did not want our visit to be seen as an intrusion, an interview, or worse, an interrogation. If we return to Tinker’s Bubble in the future, and I hope we will, perhaps we will get the answers to some of those questions.

More importantly, there are also deeper, more significant questions to answer, such as: in a world in which Scottish salmon is sent to China and back to be de-boned, in which planning permission is given all the time for companies to replace fields and trees with concrete, in which cheap flights and 4x4s drain the world’s resources every day, how is it that this gentle, thriving community, that has decided to live in a way which does not damage the earth, should be treated as an oddity, an eyesore even?

However, the one overriding, nagging question that Wenderlynn and I both took away from Tinker’s Bubble is this: when the oil runs out, when there is no more gas, when fossil water has gone, who will be ready, who will be prepared? Will we all have to live like this?

* * * * * * * *

Due to its very nature,there is very little online information about Tinker’s Bubble.
This short film: will give you a feel for the place, however, what you will not feel by watching it is the positive energy of the place that captivated and inspired us.

The beginning of blogging

This is the first blog post for Wishtree wood since first acquiring it in Aug 2011. Hopefully you will have read ‘About Us’ before reading this blog post if not please do as it makes the story flow better and gives some insight into our story.

On arrival of our first 6 hour trip of the year we were glad the rain had ceased. It makes it difficult to trudge from the parking area to The Social, the area we take breaks in; in the thick mud carrying pillows, quilts, blankets, food and containers of water. We had decided to sleep in the van rather than the caravan. We knew after a long period of absence from the wood it would be more damp than usual and we were right to make such a decision.

The van was cold, not yet insulated but it was dry and the weather was a reasonable temperature so as not to leave us freezing in -7 conditions as it did last February. We settled down for the night under the West Country starry sky, so beautiful after the light polluted skies of Hertford. We snuggled down fully clothed under numerous blankets and two quilts, shivering a little before finally getting warm, hoping for dry weather the next day.

We weren’t disappointed. As we rose to a sunny Winter’s day, tinged with a fresh chill in the air, we were greeted by a robin’s song and cheeky inspection of our actions. We took a walk through the wood to survey the work to be done (there is always plenty) and to enjoy the splendours of the Winter season. Usually it’s Iain who gets to see the deer or any other creatures, a “man thing” I always thought, but this time even I was lucky enough to see two roe deer gently pacing up the West side of the wood. One stopped for a few seconds, turned and moved on, the other stared for what seemed quite a while, waiting for us to move it seemed but we didn’t. We wanted to capture this moment together, me for the first time.

After a quick convenient breakfast of doughnuts and coffee; an alternative to eggs and herbal tea; we spent the rest of the glorious sunshine sorting the caravan out and dealing with the rather large additional leak we had found. We were beginning to feel very much part of the elite of the leaky caravan crowd making us feel like we had finally had our initiation as woodland owners. Having already combated the mouse problem (we hoped, although they still do take a fancy to the tarps covering our fire wood), this was something we knew, annoyingly, went with the territory.

We decided to paint the side of the caravan where we thought the leaks were with special paint but one dry day wasn’t quite enough, needing 16 hours to dry completely.  With this and layers of newspaper inside on very wet floor boards, we just had to hope and pray!

Whilst the half painted caravan was drying we carried on with checking the wood, making a note of the work to be done, some skills needing to be acquired we thought before we started certain tasks. Whilst Iain mended the tarp that had ripped in the strong winds, I checked the Winter wood store and fixed yet another ripped tarp to protect the wood from the elements, keeping it dry.

With distance and time always an issue our ability to fully manage the woodland is against us, especially when trying to set up suitable conditions for basic living needs such as being dry, sanitation and fresh drinking water.  We can spend almost half a day just preparing these facilities which is frustrating when we have such little time.

A very big part of our plans for Wishtree are to give what we can back to the community, from being a WWOOFing host to sharing our experiments and Permaculture designs and ideas with the local community. This is always under discussion between us as to how we will do this with ideas developing and growing. Just as things do in Permaculture, designs are always changing.

Our feelings for community have always been the same having been steering members of our local Transition town but since buying Wishtree these have been reinforced by the people we have met and the relationships we have come to develop over the last year or so. Without such kind and like-minded people as these we would not have moved forward in our transition to a West Country way of life so easily.

These people are always on our minds when we visit the wood and when we can, we take the time to visit them. Time being crucial for work needing to be done, this happens all too infrequently but people are an important part of Permaculture too, “people care” being the second ethic of Permaculture. With this in mind we paid a visit to see the first couple we met in Devon who are the owners of the B&B we stayed in when looking for a woodland.

Their friendly manner and West Country hospitality have meant that we have stayed friends ever since. So much so we acquired the caravan from them. Without these people we would have got a lot wetter and colder than we currently do. We learned the poor weather conditions of the last year had taken its toll on their business so they may have to sell. The need for community seemed even more apparent and we wanted to know what we could do to repay their kindness.  We will stay in touch with them, making them a very important part of the Wishtree community as others we have come to know such as The Bulworthy project and the neighbouring farms and villages nearby.

We spent the rest of the weekend going over our plans and ideas for the wood planted in our heads and on paper. Our visits always end with tears from me, usually as a result of having to leave something that is now so ingrained and natural to be a part of and frustration from both of us having to battle the mud all the time, making progress slow and things left undone. This visit wasn’t as product as previous ones.

On returning to our home in Hertford, there is usually a feeling of being defeated yet again by conventional jobs and stresses. Our dream is so close yet at times so very far away. I seriously consider on occasions how on earth we will ever reach it.